You should always check with the college and the relevant institute to make sure that the course you intend to take is acceptable to the institute and does in fact lead to the exam qualification you need.
We give below brief descriptions of the various institute examinations and how they are organized.
Association of Accounting Technicians
The AATs own membership courses may be taken at a number of colleges throughout the United Kingdom, on an evening, part-time or full-time basis, or on a correspondence/distance learning basis. The Central Assessments will be offered twice a year in December and June.
At each stage of the AAT scheme, students are assessed against the Statements of Competence by a combination of Central and Devolved Assessments. The AAT publishes a free list of all approved assessment centers which may be workplaces, colleges or other accredited training providers. Students using home study methods must arrange with an Approved Assessment Centre for accreditation of the Devolved Assessments required at each stage. The Central Assessments take place twice a year in June and December.
Statements of Achievement are issued twice a year after each Central Assessment session and summarize the progress students have made towards completing the Scheme. Students are given certification for all units they have successfully completed. There are no restrictions on the number of attempts at any one unit, and there is no time limit within which the syllabus must be completed.
Chartered Association of Certified Accountants
Students can study for the Association's exams at many colleges and universities, either full time or part time (block release, day release or evening class) or through the Association's Open Learning programme or by correspondence course. The Foundation and Certificate Level exams each consist of four papers in two modules, the Professional Level has six papers in two modules. All three papers in a module at Professional Level must be passed at the same session, although you can have a second try if you fail only one paper. You must complete the whole set of modules within ten years.
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
You can study for the Institute's exams full or part time, by sandwich course, block or day release or evening class, or by home study or correspondence course. Studying is combined with practical experience with an employer. The syllabus has four separate stages. If you do not have a training post with an employer, some colleges can offer a full-time course and arrange suitable work experience. Graduates with semi-relevant degrees or with relevant degrees may gain exemption from some or all of the papers in Stages 2 and 3.
Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy
The CIPFA course is based on open learning techniques supported by a link tutor and college courses. These may be block release, day and evening courses and residential weekends. Examinations take place twice a year. The first and second Professional exams are designed to test the student's knowledge and understanding of the five prescribed areas: Accountancy, Economics, Law, Maths, and Statistics. The third Professional exam has two parts: a timed written paper on a case study and a project on aspects of finance and accountancy functions. The major strength of the P3 exam is the project, which is the student's specific contribution to the organisation where he or she is employed. The subject is suggested by the student with the approval of the Principal and based on current priorities at work.
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
Institute which runs a series of full-time block-release courses plus private study, and by training through the training contract with your firm. You can also study by sandwich course.
An Accountancy Foundation course and some accountancy qualifications will exempt you from the Foundation Education examinations, but you will have to pass a test of accounting competence before taking the Intermediate Exam.
During your training contract you are entitled to study leave to prepare for the Intermediate and Final Exams, which are usually taken at the end of the second and third years for non-graduates. The exams are designed to test your ability to analyse facts quickly, and present subjects with clarity.
Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland
Commencement courses for people straight from school may last one or two years full time. The two-year course should enable the student to complete at least two of the four exams of the Institute. The syllabus for Professional One covers Introduction to Accounting, Mathematics in Business, Business Environment and Business Law. Professional Two and Three cover Financial Accounting. Auditing, Business Information Systems, Management Accounting, Business Finance and Taxation. The Final Admitting Examination consists of a test of competence conducted on an open book basis, auditing and the general duties of professional accountants and case studies.
A Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Accounting for holders of non-relevant degrees lasts one year full time, and exempts students from the first two parts of the Institute examinations. The Postgraduate Diploma for holders of relevant degrees lasts one year and exempts students from the first three parts of the overall Institute exam.
Candidates who hold the Diplomas and Certificates organised through the National Council for Education Awards in the Republic, and similar qualifications awarded in the United Kingdom, are not required to attend a commencement course.
An aptitude test, which is optional, is operated by the Institute to give guidance to students on whether accountancy would be a suitable career. One is granted only to those who have gained their primary degrees at a level of 2.2 honours or equivalent.
Commencement course (non-graduate) students sit all four parts of the Institute examination; holders of recognised certificates and diplomas in Business Studies entering into four year training contracts may be eligible for some exemptions in Professional One.
Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
All graduates of UK universities are eligible to commence a three year training contract in an authorized training office of a firm of chartered accountants. Degrees are classified into two categories: fully 'accredited' (giving exemption from the Professional Course and Examination) and 'qualifying' (which may, depending on syllabus content, give exemption from individual Professional Course subjects). All CA students attend a series of block release classes to prepare them for the examinations. Classes are run by the Institute in their Education Centers in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or London. Lectures and case study tutorials are conducted by the Institute's full-time lecturing staff and by members working in public practice, industry, commerce and education.
The Professional Examination, from which fully 'accredited' graduates are exempt, comprises papers in Financial Accounting, Business Finance, Management Decision and Control, Auditing, Taxation, Information Technology and Business Law. Students sitting all Professional papers will attend a total of 13 weeks of block-release classes spread throughout the first year of the training contract.
The Test of Professional Competence Part I comprises four subjects: Financial Reporting, Auditing, Taxation, and Information Systems. Each paper comprises a case study and technical questions. All students attend a total of eight weeks of block release classes in preparation for this examination which will be taken 13 months into the training contract (fully accredited graduates) and 25 months into the training contract ('qualifying' graduates).
Test of Professional Competence Part II is the Institute's final examination. It comprises one multidiscipline case study designed to test candidates' ability to apply their theoretical knowledge and practical skills to problems of the type likely to be encountered by the newly qualified accountant. Students attend four weeks of block-release classes leading to this examination which is taken nine months before the end of the training contract (fully accredited graduates) and three months before the end of the training contract ('qualifying' graduates).
Institute of Company Accountants
Students can study by full or part-time college course or distance learning.
Institute of Cost and Executive Accountants
Students can study by distance learning or at colleges and commercial institutes. There are four levels of examination offering four subjects at each level.
Institute of Financial Accountants
The time scale for qualifying is open ended. Students make their own arrangements. On average it takes one year part time, six months full time to pass each level.
Studying by correspondence course for accountancy qualifications has always been a recognised route to the exams, but it is as well to top this up with attendance at a college for at least a revision course if you can, even though this might not be compulsory.
There are many reasons why some students may prefer to study by correspondence rather than at college for the main part of their course. There may be no convenient course near your home; you may wish to begin the course in the middle of the academic year; you may have commitments that prevent you from attending evening classes regularly, the local college may not offer the options you want; you may simply prefer to work on your own at your own pace.
If you do decide to take a correspondence course, make sure that it is acceptable to the accountancy body you wish to join and that it is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Correspondence Colleges. There is a list of approved colleges in the Education Year Book, which should be in your local reference library.
Open or distance learning, like traditional correspondence courses, requires considerable self-discipline to succeed. Several institutions have their own open learning system supported by personal tutors, or in association with local colleges. The quality of support from tutors is very important. Several of the institutions offer open learning courses in conjunction with the Open College, which specializes in the production of open learning materials for business and education.